Urban plant biodiversity is influenced by both the physical environment and attitudes and preferences of urban residents for specific plant types. Urban residents are assumed to be disconnected from their immediate environment, and cultural and societal factors have been emphasized over environmental factors in studies of landscaping choices. However, we postulate that local climatic and environmental factors can also affect preferences for plant attributes. Therefore, spatial and temporal patterns in urban tree biodiversity may be driven not only by the direct effect of environmental variables on plant function, but also by the effect of environmental variables on attitudes toward trees and associated choices about which types of trees to plant. Here, we tested the relative effects of socio-economic and local environmental factors on preferences toward tree attributes in five counties in southern California in and surrounding Los Angeles, based on 1,029 household surveys. We found that local environmental factors have as strong an effect on preferences for tree attributes as socio-economic factors. Specifically, people located in hotter climates (average maximum temperature 25.1 °C) were more likely to value shade trees than those located in cooler regions (23.1 °C). Additionally, people located in desert areas were less likely to consider trees to be important in their city compared with people located in naturally forested areas. Overall, our research demonstrates the inherent connections between local environmental factors and perceptions of nature, even in large modern cities. Accounting for these factors can contribute to the growing interest in understanding patterns of urban biodiversity. © 2014 Springer Science+Business Media New York.